How and Why Do Students Use Learning Strategies? A Mixed Methods Study on Learning Strategies and Desirable Difficulties With Effective Strategy Users

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In order to ensure long-term retention of information students must move from relying on surface-level approaches that are seemingly effective in the short-term to "building in" so called "desirable difficulties," with the aim of achieving understanding and long-term retention of the subject matter. But how can this level of self-regulation be achieved by students when learning? Traditionally, research on learning strategy use is performed using self-report questionnaires. As this method is accompanied by several drawbacks, we chose a qualitative, in-depth approach to inquire about students' strategies and to investigate how students successfully self-regulate their learning. In order to paint a picture of effective learning strategy use, focus groups were organized in which previously identified, effectively self-regulating students (N = 26) were asked to explain how they approach their learning. Using a constructivist grounded theory methodology, a model was constructed describing how effective strategy users manage their learning. In this model, students are driven by a personal learning goal, adopting a predominantly qualitative, or quantitative approach to learning. While learning, students are continually engaged in active processing and self-monitoring. This process is guided by a constant balancing between adhering to established study habits, while maintaining a sufficient degree of flexibility to adapt to changes in the learning environment, assessment demands, and time limitations. Indeed, students reported using several strategies, some of which are traditionally regarded as "ineffective" (highlighting, rereading etc.). However, they used them in a way that fit their learning situation. Implications are discussed for the incorporation of desirable difficulties in higher education.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2501
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2018


  • problem-based learning
  • desirable difficulties
  • self-regulated learning
  • learning strategies
  • mixed methods &lt
  • research methodology
  • grounded theory analysis

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